Monday, October 19, 2009

In Transition

When we first viewed the house, our realtor Mike told us that the neighborhood was “in transition.” It was the end of 2002 and we were sick of our one-bedroom, second-floor apartment with the treacherous steps and the murderously hot summers without air conditioning. By this point we had been abusing the “no pets” clauses for at least six months and our cats spent their days in the bathroom like stowaways on an irregular-shaped yacht. So we were more than ready to move.

What Mike meant was that homes were being snapped up by young couples – DINKS, the lot of us – and that the neighborhood was undergoing a renaissance. He had grown up in this neighborhood himself; he showed us in our floor plan which bedroom had been his, which had been his brother’s. I’m a sucker for this sort of nostalgia. After stalking the house like jealous lovers, driving by at all times of day and night to make sure she was still there, safe and alone, we made the offer. We packed up the cats, a few dozen boxes of books, and moved in. We met the neighbors on all sides, joined the neighborhood watch, and started to make our dull little box of a home into something we loved.

It wasn’t until Baxter came along that I really got to know the neighborhood, though. The most loved beagle on earth insists on two walks a day – nose to the ground, tail in the air, leg lifted frequently. I can credit Baxter with giving me more of an interest in our neighborhood – without these walks I might not notice people moving in or out, or know which cars belong where. I wouldn’t notice the wheelchair ramp being built, or the tacky Christmas decorations lingering nearly to Easter. I wouldn’t know every dog within a twelve block radius, or even be known myself.

“Hi, Baxter!” say the sisters whose names I don’t remember.

“It’s Baxter and his mom!” says the woman walking her black lab. I only know her as Kiya’s mom.

“I see you walking by here all the time,” observes the man whose lower jaw extends much farther than his upper.

“I love that little beagle,” says the homeless man in the park, his voice emerging from beneath layers of fabric.

“Are you taking your dog for a walk?” asks Crazy Lady with the bandaged leg. Just once I’d like to reply, “Nope, not today,” while our six legs hustle past. But I can’t, and it’s more than pity for the infected leg. It’s a matter of being… neighborly.

Maybe this is why I bristled when a friend said, apropos of nothing, that I lived in a bad neighborhood. Well, maybe not nothing – there was the stolen car two years ago and the break-in last June. It is true that our neighborhood was hit hard by the mortgage crisis; some of the homes snapped up at such a steal are now on the market again. But this morning, walking Baxter before the streetlights were off, I had this thought: We’re just “in transition” again. Right now we’re slumping in the other direction, maybe, but it’s a slow slump, and that feels okay for now. It could turn around at any time.

I’m thinking this as I pass Michael, my day-trading/weekend-garage-saling neighbor. He’s wearing shorts and slippers; the fat cigar in his mouth is keeping him warm. He calls out, “’Morning! This is going to be a great day, isn’t it?”

“Yes!” I say, voicing optimism that I rarely let myself believe in. “It’s great already.”


  1. doing some thinking / preaching / teaching lately on 'liminal space' - anthropological term that makes sense in all of the other spheres of life... liminal space - the in between space - it's said that it is here that true (genuine, authentic) community can form. Your thoughts here gave me another window into that... thanks.

  2. Well put. I need to get me a Baxter.